(posted by t.j. peters)
When I asked founder of 5secondfilms.com Brian Firenzi if he would let me ask him some hard-hitting questions, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I fear your journalistic prowess.” (Not a quote.) Surprisingly, he agreed to go through with the interview anyway and, as you’ll see, it turned into a veritable bullfight of a conversation.
If you’re underwhelmed by the end of this interview it’s not my fault. You clearly think too highly of bullfights.
T.J.: About how many 5sf (five-second films) are there in existence now? Will there be a celebration at a certain number?
Brian: 5sf #591 will be making its debut tomorrow, then 592 the next day, and so on and so forth. If you ask me, we should’ve done something special for #555 (“Brian Shaves an Arrow on His Chest”), but I’m pretty sure that night just involved me getting drunk and watching MST3K.
T: What are a couple of your favorite 5sf?
B: You can check out our favorites on our staff bios, which are located in the “About” link. It’s a touch out-of-date however; Jon Worley wants one of his favorites replaced with “Emo Cowboys” and that hasn’t happened yet. As for me, I’m a sucker for anything that ends in a quiet little echo chamber of sadness (“Cool Neighbor”, “Robodog”). I tend to pitch a lot of ideas that end in some big easy fix, like a gunshot or an explosion, but these days I definitely prefer to just see somebody writhe in their own private sadness. I know exactly what that says about me and I don’t care.
T: “Brian Firenzi Writhes in His Own Private Sadness” almost sounds like a 5sf in itself. Do you ever find yourself twisting everything into a potential 5sf concept?
B: I’ve learned not to try forcing everything into a 5sf idea, because the less strained ones always prove to be that much funnier. Oscar week, of course, is a challenge for that very reason, because we have to find some way to take the piss out of “Up in the Air.” My idea involved George Clooney being informed as he flies over the country that he just racked up 1,000,000 frequent flier miles, to which he cackles ominously, bellows “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE” and then turns into a plane, bursting out of the plane he was in and killing everyone else. Yeah. This is what straining to find a gag does to me.
T: What has been the most complicated 5sf to shoot?
B: In terms of pure time spent, nothing took longer than “Live Fast”, which is incidentally one of the 5sfs I’m most proud of, even if it’s not my favorite. We basically took a few days and countless costume changes to show the life of a married couple, from meeting to parting, in the span of five seconds. It’s like the first ten minutes of “Up” in Fun-Size Snickers form. However, I think the most complicated conceptually was probably “untitled”, our attempt at a halfway-creepy 5sf for Halloween. My hope is that Michel Gondry looks at that one someday and at least doesn’t spit on the ground, mumbling “amateurs” in French.
T: Hopefully he’ll be mumbling “auteurs”. You mentioned a 5sf pilot when we talked earlier. Care to divulge any information about what that might look and feel like?
B: Our pilot is going to be a sketch comedy show with a dedicated narrative arc, which is something we’ve never seen before on TV. It’s going to maintain our tone of wacky vaudeville as informed by nightmarish dream logic, and we’ve taken great care to make sure the energy never flags, as one might expect of a 22-minute TV show from a group of guys that make micro-comedy on a daily basis. However, the guys probably wouldn’t want anything more to be divulged than that.
T: Several of 5sf members live together. Do you ever wish you were in that house or is the space good for you?
B: Here’s how it works: Rousselet, say, will walk into the dining room one morning with an idea. It’ll bounce off Ben, to Erik, to Mike E. Peter, until it either dies on the floor or they’ve got something cooked up that they at least mostly agree on. I like that, and I like coming over there later on to have it bounce off of me. This dynamic works a lot better than the other way, which often involves me stopping by with a half-baked idea that comes with its own tombstone.
B: A while back, a reporter from West Bromwich East (Tom Watson’s constituency as MP) phoned us to try and get some “dirt” on Watson, as apparently he’d been embroiled in some sort of controversy that we knew nothing about. We only made a couple of 5sfs about Watson because he Tweeted about us and we wanted to show some appreciation. So, as the reporter tried to get our opinion about what was going on across the pond, we just fed him a line of bullshit about how shark people are a menace to society and Watson’s the only man with the guts to do something about it. The interview ended shortly thereafter.
T: What do you think makes a 5sf resonate most with you fans?
B: Relatability. Relatability. Relatability. My buddy Adrian Syben, an irregular contributor to the site, cooked up “Late For Work” all on his own and it is by far our most popular 5sf on YouTube. It’s been Dugg, Redd, and sought after by Italian TV shows. Why? Because everyone hates work, and everyone’s been late for it. We obviously don’t strive for a recognizable, human element in every 5sf we do, but we just-as-obviously should.
T: I now consider myself an irregular contributor to 5sf, since you guys plugged me into the background of your “Inglourius Basterds” sketch. On a scale of one to three, using only whole numbers, how would you rate my performance?
B: We nabbed you for our “Basterds” parody because you looked like a good B.J Novak, and when it comes to including people, I’d like to think we’re pretty open to that. As for acting in a 5sf, things move by so fast and the point is to deliver only a gag, that as long as you don’t mumble your words or get in the way of making people laugh, it’s kind of 3s all around. It’s our version of the Oscars, where we hand out giant golden 3s with an inscription that says “As for acting in a 5sf, things move by so fast and the point is to deliver only a gag, that as long as you don’t mumble your words or get in the way of making people laugh, it’s kind of 3s all around.”
T: We’ve already touched on a couple of the Oscar nominee parodies that 5sf has coming out soon. If 5sf had its own Oscars, what parody do you think would bring home Best Picture?
B: Oscar week last year was more for movie nerds (and ourselves, being movie nerds) than it was for the general public, who hadn’t seen “Frost/Nixon,” didn’t want to and still hasn’t. As the Oscars this year have expanded to 10 in order to accommodate “Sandra Bullock’s Feel Good Touchdown Happy Hour,” we hope to appeal to just as many folks. That said, seeing as how I gravitate towards darkness, nothing will probably top what we did for “Up.”
T: How many 5sf have you thought up during this interview?
B: I’m thinking too hard to come up with anything funny. I’m sure some joke about a guy blowing his own head off came up and sat back down in my subconscious.
T: Hopefully that’s not a reflection on how you feel about this interview.
B: Well, it was in my subconscious, if at all, so in the event I do the deed, I think the blame can fall safely on someone like Rousselet. You’re cool in my book.
T: Thanks, Brian.
My name is t.j. and Brian A’ed my Q’s.
(posted by t.j. peters)
“Who can draw the best penis?. . .”
“Practice it on a piece of paper and then we’ll put it on his face. . . “
“Should it be circumcised?. . .”
“Let’s just put an actual dick on his face and trace it. . .”
“With veins, or just your basic cock and ball?s. . .”
“Do you think we should draw some jizz on there?. . .”
“Eh, I don’t know if anyone will catch it. . . ”
“Somebody always catches the jizz . . .”
“T.J., you’re the new guy, you can be the jizz catcher. You’ve got to start somewhere at 5secondfilms.”
Well put. I mean, not about being the jizz catcher. That’s fucking gross and I’m not going to do it. I was referring to the “got to start somewhere” part. For 5secondfilms, every joke, every off-hand comment, every “jizz catcher”, could potentially become their next sketch. And nobody, not even them, seems to know how or when the next one will come (or be caught).
Last week I tagged along with the 5sf crew on their weekly Sunday shoot, which took place at the Silver Lake, CA house most of the members live in. The day was spent shooting the shit and shooting the films that have made them, in my eyes, one of the most interesting and entertaining comedy groups out there today. But before I begin with my observations, let’s do a little 5sf history lesson.
5secondfilms is, collectively, Brian Firenzi, Jon Worley, Ben Gigli, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Rousselet, Erik Sandoval, Kelsey Gunn, Michael E. Peter, and Daniel Hollister. The idea began with Firenzi and some friends at the University of Southern California, developed into a method to enter school film festivals, then eventually, years later, took its current form—5secondfilms.com. The site as it exists now has been up-and-running for roughly a year and half, producing one five second film every day, Monday through Friday. They are a self-described vaudevillian showcase of one-line-and-out, irreverent comedy, which, in my opinion, is an entirely accurate description.
Now let’s take eight seconds (that includes the titles) to watch the first 5sf shot on Sunday.
I arrived at the 5sf house a little after noon to generally lackadaisical greetings, the kind you get from a long time friend or one who understands that introductions aren’t really as important as the conversation that follows. (Well, except for Rousselet. That guy is just a bundle of sunshine.) After getting settled and working through the what-kind-of-dick-do-we-want-on-Gigli’s-face discussion (I’ll explain later), it was time to buckle down, get the troops in order, and shoot the 5sf above. . . or whatever. Realistically, what happened was incredibly simple. The camera was set on the porch we were already hanging out on, Brian readied himself with a wireless mic, Worley kept reading The New Yorker, Kelsey left her feet up on the table, I jotted down notes from out of frame, and a 5sf was born.
It may seem haphazard, but I assure you it isn’t. This 5sf was simply the result of knowing what needed to be done and executing it efficiently. Basically, no one got in the way. Once the camera was rolling, Brian took about six takes, nodded with approval, and said, “That’ll do it” without asking any questions. Well, except the one in the sketch, which he answered by himself anyway.
How quickly this 5sf could have gone from sketch comedy to public service announcement. There was a rogue antenna on set and it had a thirst for blood. Despite its best efforts to attach itself to Erik and kill us all, we escaped with only a couple poked eyes and one near strangulation. Regardless, we’re all using wooden clothes hangers from now on.
Shooting “Setting the Mood” was a fun reminder that sometimes the best parts of creating something are the problems you face while trying to complete it. Erik and Brian built the radio antenna for the 5sf from a couple wire hangers, one of which was straightened to extend down the back of Erik’s shirt. From behind, it was Kelsey’s job to operate the device. (This was not fetish porn, I assure you.) However, beyond anyone’s control, the contraption swung around wildly, always seeming to strike the person who had let their guard down for that very moment. The nice thing was, it actually ended up playing well in the sketch since Erik and Olivia had to scramble to catch it. Now I’m not trying to say it was the funniest moment in the world—nor was it the funniest 5sf we’ve seen in awhile—but the point is, it’s those kind of intangibles that take something from simply being funny to being memorable, even if only for the filmmakers. 5sf is full of these moments and it shows.
The third film shot on Sunday is a bit of a sneak peak and the subject of the conversation that began this article. It will debut as part of 5sf Oscar Week, in which they parody every Best Picture nominee of the year. The film 5sf spoofed on this shoot is Inglourious Basterds and, without giving too much away, I’ll say this: when the Basterds party, it gets a little more intense than leaving a guy’s hand in a warm cup of water.
This sketch represents the higher end version of the 5sf. It has makeup, costumes, set design, interior lighting, etc.—proof that making a 5sf requires more than a joke, but skills as filmmakers. Just as everyone knew their role (or lack thereof) in “A Perfectly Innocent Question”, the same rules applied for the Basterds sketch, only with a much more active approach. Without needing to communicate much, every member assumed his or her duty to rig lights, set dress, black out windows, or prepare costumes.
However, this doesn’t mean that they crossed every ‘i’ and dotted every ‘t’ before hitting the set. Needing anther body to fill the frame, I was drafted to throw on some fatigues and do my best to resemble B.J. Novak. (Trust me, I nailed it.) The cool thing was, they had no reservations about doing it. Granted, it’s hard for one background actor to ruin a five second sketch, but still, to me it showed a level of trust and confidence that you don’t always see from filmmakers or comedians.
As I’ve thought about it more, I believe my involvement in the Basterds sketch is pretty representative of how 5sf operates. The idea was in place, the crew was assembled, and then they used the resources they had at hand to make it happen(which in this instance included me). It’s that approach that allows 5secondfilms to pump out a funny product five days a week.
“I’m sorry. We’re usually much more drunk by now,” Olivia said to me late in the afternoon during a lull. Then we all got hammered. The rest of the afternoon is pretty much a blur to me, so I guess I’ll just wrap this up. In closing, I’d just like say that you should watch 5secondfilms.com or something. Also, my fucking head still hurts.
Okay, that’s not what actually happened, but I did appreciate the sentiment because it was a good symbolic gesture. Personally, I always prefer getting drunk in the company of close friends, and I think 5sf would agree with that. Whether intoxicated or not, the Sunday shoot is to 5sf what poker night is to most of us—a chance to hang out with the gang and do something they love. They tell jokes, reminisce about long nights and early mornings, and are genuinely affectionate towards one another. It might be hard to catch this connection in their daily five second products, but it’s what has driven the success of 5secondfilms to this point and will continue to in the future. And you know what? I’d be their jizz catcher any day.
My name is t.j. and five seconds later, I regretted ending my blog that way.
Check back tomorrow for my interview with 5sf founder Brian Firenzi!